Must Be Tough To Be James In Mercedes

It must be tough to be James in the Mercedes camp these days. First, they had James Vowles under the bus for a tyre strategy error. Then, Toto Wolff paraphrased James Allison while expressing his disgust at Kimi Raikkonen’s tagging of Lewis Hamilton

It is the wildest allegation to hit Formula 1 in recent times: that Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 Formula 1 World Champion and Ferrari driver, deliberately drove into the reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton’s car on the opening lap of the 2018 British Grand Prix. Raikkonen, who has otherwise been error-prone at almost every Grand Prix this season, managed to tag Hamilton in such precise fashion that while the British driver spun and re-joined at the back of the field with a damaged Mercedes car, the Ferrari driver escaped unscathed. At least this is how Toto Wolff and the Mercedes team saw the Raikkonen-Hamilton incident; labelling it as ‘deliberate or incompetent’ post-race.

Mercedes – Bad losers?

First things first, Mercedes’s post-race comments on Ferrari are an anti-climax after both teams and their drivers delivered a phenomenal Formula 1 Grand Prix. When was the last time we had both Ferrari and Mercedes drivers engaged in an intense battle for the win 15 laps to the end? It certainly was a rare sight for modern Formula 1 fans and for one competitor to ruin the fun by accusing their arch-rivals of unsportsmanlike behaviour seems like a case of being a ‘bad loser’.
But Mercedes’ disappointment is valid. In the last three races, each Ferrari driver has tagged and spun a Mercedes car on the opening lap at least once – Vettel-Bottas in France and Raikkonen-Hamilton in Great Britain. However, their reaction seems childish. Maybe Mercedes are also reeling under their own pressure of calling the wrong strategy innumerable times this season, the last instances being Austria and Great Britain. The team would have hoped to solidify their championship standings at Mercedes-favoured circuits such as Canada, Austria and Silverstone, but we know what the results have been.

Given that we are already 10 races into the 2018 Formula 1 Season, one would have expected Mercedes to sharpen their race strategy skills given how close Ferrari and Red Bull Racing are. In Silverstone, the team chose track position over fresh rubber – a decision that cost the team a race win. Although this decision could have been prompted at the lack of available softer tyres to the team, however, the moping after Hamilton’s second place finish did seem excessive.

When Last Was Raikkonen This Aggressive?

But Kimi Raikkonen, yes, the same 2007 Formula 1 World Champion, made a rookie error. On the opening lap, with a tank full of fuel and tyres not entirely in their operating range, he locked-up and out-braked himself while trying to attack Lewis Hamilton. Any driver worth his salt would have attempted the move – there was a clear gap, he had the run on Hamilton into the corner. Also, any driver could have made the error; just that Raikkonen has made more errors for someone of his caliber. But despite this, the Iceman has stood on the podium six times out of 10 races. Also, had he not made an error on his Q3 lap on Saturday, Raikkonen could have started from pole on Sunday.

Raikkonen – Fair penalty? 

The FIA were right in awarding Raikkonen a 10-second time penalty, one that even the driver himself acknowledged was the correct ruling (yes, Raikkonen is a rare breed). This means that there’s no point debating ‘whether the penalty was justified’, but there’s merit in understanding if the 10-second penalty was a harsh one or not. The Vettel-Bottas incident from France saw Vettel earning a 5-second time penalty – one that everyone believed was a lenient ruling. In light of this, maybe the FIA Stewards decided to be harsher on Raikkonen at Silverstone. But again, we know that the FIA’s ways aren’t most consistent, but we should also agree that the Stewards’ job is probably the toughest in Formula 1.

However, despite the penalty for Raikkonen and despite re-joining the race in 17th place for Hamilton, both World Champion drivers drove their heart out to join Sebastian Vettel on the podium. Hamilton’s classy and masterful drive through the grid with bold overtakes need to be applauded, as does Raikkonen’s new found aggression – but the British Grand Prix also showed the stark contrast in pace between Ferrari-Mercedes and the rest. Yes, even Red Bull Racing’s deficit to the top two teams was higher than their average.

Vettel Equals Prost’s Record

Sebastian Vettel equalled Alain ‘Professor’ Prost’s 51 career wins by claiming an unexpected and a psychologically denting win at Hamilton’s home in Silverstone. Vettel, who narrowly missed pole position from Hamilton on Saturday, made amends on Sunday by clinching the lead at the start itself. After that, it was a typical Vettel-esque race where the German driver seemed in control at all times – this is despite the two Safety Car periods that saw Bottas take away his lead. Vettel’s overtake on Bottas in the closing stages of the race and Bottas’ repeated defenses was a battle that Formula 1 will remember for time to come. Eventually, Vettel’s fresher and softer tyres played a crucial part in helping the German claim victory and extend his Drivers’ Championship lead over Lewis Hamilton to eight points.

NOW Is The Best Time To Invest In An F1 Team

The in-season car development war between the top teams has been most evident in the last few races. Mercedes’ delayed updates to Canada saw them lose ground to Ferrari. However, they clawed the narrow deficit back by bringing upgrades in the triple header races at France, Austria and Silverstone – claiming victory in France while retiring while in the lead in Austria. In fact in Silverstone, Ferrari’s updates to the floor saw them edge marginally ahead on a track that has traditionally favoured Mercedes and Hamilton. This battle is destined to go down to the wire in Abu Dhabi and it seems that the team-driver that will make the least number of errors will claim championship honours.

Valtteri Bottas’ rotten luck continues

The one driver who is yet to unlock his luck in the Drivers’ Championship fight is Valtteri Bottas. The Finnish driver, who was leading the race at the Safety Car restarts, fell prey to the Ferraris on fresher tyres and his team-mate to finish a distant fourth. However, the 2018 British Grand Prix was a brilliant advertisement of Bottas’ talent. The Mercedes driver was at his aggressive best yet while defending Vettel’s attacks to claim the race lead.
 Red Bull Racing suffered a brake-by-wire fault on Max Verstappen’s car that led to him retiring and being classified as 15th. But this is after he entertained us with some daring defenses against Raikkonen. Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth in a race where his team’s challenge seemed to fade away despite attempts on creatively using the third DRS zone. Verstappen claimed that Renault’s lack of power cost his team nearly a second on the straights of Silverstone. One wonders what the deficit would be next year as his team switches to Honda engines. At 199 championship points, Red Bull Racing are a distant third to Ferrari and Mercedes.

Hulkenberg’s consistency for Renault

Nico Hulkenberg claimed ‘best of the rest’ honours as he attempted a different tyre strategy (medium-hard) to the other top-10 finishers. Renault’s strategy was probably to keep into account the unexpected sunny weather that saw higher track temperatures – also raising expectations of blisters on Pirelli’s tyres a la Austria. However, Pirelli need to be credited for bringing the correct compounds to Silverstone – they allowed the drivers to push and prompted the teams to attempt alternate strategy to gain ground. Hulkenberg’s finish saw him leap into the seventh position in the Drivers’ Championship ahead of Fernando Alonso and Kevin Magnussen.

Leclerc Has Outperformed Verstappen

Alonso’s last lap overtake on Magnussen saw the Spaniard finish eighth, just behind Force India’s Esteban Ocon. A post-race penalty for Pierre Gasly saw Sergio Perez promoted to 10th place; double points finish for Force India at their home race. Sauber’s rookie Charles Leclerc’s race ended in the gravel after a faulty pit-stop led to his retirement – the first of his Formula 1 career, while his team-mate Marcus Ericsson was one of the drivers who had a heavy shunt that brought out the Safety Car. The other drivers being Romain Grosjean and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Haas is a mystery

Haas’ performances in 2018 are a puzzle. The team and drivers are aware that they have the fourth best car on the grid, however, for them to consistent finish seventh and eighth (after the top-6) is an almost impossible task. This probably raises the credibility of Force India who could easily manage this feat in 2016 and 2017, when they were the ‘best of the rest’. The Force India-Haas battle for 5th place is also expected to go down the wire this season. They trail Renault by 21 points for fourth place.

Grosjean Interview: No Targets For Haas 2019 Contract

The 2018 British Grand Prix brought to close the sport’s first triple header (three races in a row). While fans were in for a treat, several teams heaved a sigh of relief when Formula 1 hinted that there wouldn’t be a triple header next year. For the lesser known, Formula 1 had to plan a triple header to avoid clashes with the Football World Cup. But one wonders if Sebastian Vettel’s neck problems and Lewis Hamilton’s post-race physical exhaustion was connected to the drivers pushing their bodies to the physical limits three weekends in a row. But here’s a reminder: the 2018 German Grand Prix is a fortnight away.

This post was first published on Firstpost

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

2 comments On Must Be Tough To Be James In Mercedes

  • anybody save Ferrari would be penalised at least one race, if not two;
    better on-field tackling can only be found in American football;
    does Enzo’s reach extend that far from the grave?

    • Hahaha, that’s hilarious. Yes, Ferrari International Assistance isn’t too far off, at such times 😉
      Many thanks for your reading and comment. Hope you enjoy the content on my blog as much.

Leave a reply:

Site Footer

Sliding Sidebar

Open chat
Let's Talk Formula 1
Happy to share my passion for Formula 1 with you. If you have specific queries about the sport, feel free to ping me.

In the meanwhile, I welcome you to subscribe to the Inside Line F1 Podcast for insightful conversations around Formula 1. We release an episode every week.